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When nature protection meets economic well-being of remote regions

Oct 5, 2023 | News

AEIDL, the European Association for Innovation in Local Development, hosted a webinar today on “Protected natural sites: A constraint or an opportunity for mountain value chains?

This is quite a topical issue given the present challenges in securing an agreement for the Nature Restoration Law.  To provide some clarity on where we are at, Carla Lostrangio, AEIDL’s Project Manager in MOVING, the Horizon 2020 project that finances this activity, facilitated the discussions with European experts on nature protection and mountain value chains. The over 100 registered participants had the opportunity to hear updates from experts from the Institute for European Environmental Policy, the University of Ghent or the World Network of Mountain Biosphere Reserves among many others included in the agenda.

The Nature Restoration Law was a key element of the discussion. After having reached a difficult compromise during its vote at the European Parliament last summer, precisely today the third trilogue negotiations between European Commission, Parliament and Council representing the Member States is being held. This draft legislation is moving towards mandatory targets thus going beyond existing Green Deal and Biodiversity Strategy. This is of course why there are difficult negotiations as the need for binding targets to restore and protect Europe´s natural capital is regarded by a significant set of organisations as detrimental to economic development. Among those in favour of strong EU legislation, there is fear that the amendments that were introduced to the ambitious European Commission proposal may significantly weaken the legislation, by way of making targets more voluntary or softening them. Furthermore, it is felt by many that introducing a wider margin of appreciation in the new legislation may not only weaken enforcement but may even affect EU environmental legislation already in place. Thus, enforcement and monitoring of enforcement is key as well as going beyond the existing limited EU funding that exists to restore natural habitats.

Mountain areas are not exempt from these pressures (these reflections or discussions? it is not clear what pressures you refer to). In a study carried out for the MOVING project by AEIDL expert Blanca Casares, it was found that 82.6% of the 23 surveyed mountain areas claimed that the presence of natural areas is an opportunity as it brings economic, environmental, and social benefits. Nonetheless, 43.5% of the 23 surveyed mountain areas acknowledged that protected natural sites are somehow a constraint to mountain value chains as they harshen regulations on business activity and prevention, land and resource use as well as restrict tourism and visitor management. 

  • 60% of the surveyed territories have a natural protected site within boundaries (covered Habitat Directive, Natura 2000, Bird Directive, National Parks legislation, Biosphere reserves or similar).
  • 50% of respondents were not concerned about the presence of a natural space in their area, however, the other half of respondents were concerned about the potential constraint in business activities, including more limited access to visitors to natural sites.
  • 40% of responses highlight that the main economic added value of such designation is to attract tourism.
  • 35% of responses value increased environmental resilience that having this designation fosters in the surrounding areas as well.
  • 20% of respondents believe that having a natural protected site adds value to the branding of local products.

In the ensuing discussion with experts, academics and representatives from mountain areas it was particularly highlighted that over and above the final shape of the Nature Restoration Law, whose approval is expected before the end of the present EU term, will be the National Nature Restoration Plans, whose content and enforcement will have to be regularly assessed by the European Commission. Assuming that the EU legislation is sufficiently robust, and the EU guidance is clear, enforcement will be the key. But also foresight. For instance, Euromontana is preparing a study on climate adaptation and tourism; with climate change, several tourism seasons per year may become a reality. However, this multiplies the human impact on the natural environment.

Even if policies, evidence and indeed funding are necessary, discussion participants highlighted the need for capacity building but also changing perceptions, from the national level to local stakeholders, farmers and natural park managers. They have also underlined schemes recognising those high-value products which are linked to the preservation of a natural protected sites and called for better alignment with the Common Agricultural Policy.  As Professor Mar Delgado, MOVING coordinator, highlighted local residents’ awareness of the various positive outcomes, including in terms of economic development, that exist in protecting and restoring our natural capital is key for any EU or domestic legislation to protect natural sites is to be successful.

AEIDL and MOVING will continue working on this issue as we are entering the final and crucial year of this project, with policy recommendations to be formulated ahead of the next EU elections.

MOVING (MOuntain Valorisation through INterconnectedness and Green growth) is a Horizon 2020 project (2020-2024) coordinated by the University of Córdoba, gathering 23 partner organisations. The project will build capacities and co-develop policy frameworks across Europe. It will establish new or upscaled value chains to contribute to the resilience and sustainability of mountain areas to climate change. AEIDL is responsible for the advocacy of this project such as in event as today. You can sign up to AEIDL and MOVING for future updates of our forthcoming activities.